Could your skincare have links to infertility?
When planning to conceive, there’s no shortage of information advising parents-to-be how to give themselves the best possible chance to create their little miracle.
Regular exercise, a balanced diet and avoiding stress are all common ways to help prepare your body for pregnancy and carry a healthy child.
What’s not talked about so often is the products we put on our skin.
While moisturising and other everyday skincare products may not directly cause infertility, scientific studies have proven in no uncertain terms that some synthetic ingredients commonly used in skincare products have links to hormonal imbalances and may cause delays with conception.
Whether you’re trying to conceive, or you simply want to be more aware of the ingredients in your skincare products and how these may affect your hormones; here are some common ingredients to watch out for:
Widely used as preservatives in cosmetic and skincare products, parabens are a group of compounds (alkyl esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid) that traditionally stop bacteria and fungi growing in personal hygiene products.
Methyl (MP) and propyl (PP) parabens are two of the most commonly used parabens in skincare. They bind to the estrogen receptors and are considered endocrine-disrupting chemicals.
In a 2017 study (1) of over 500 couples, it was found that elevated concentrations of MP and PP were found in urine samples from females and associated with a reduction in the couples’ fertility as the time taken to conceive was longer than those without the parabens in their samples.
While evidence that parabens used in skincare will cause infertility is inconclusive, studies show that they can increase the time it takes to conceive. The same study also mentioned that concentrations of parabens were higher in female urine samples than in men, showing potential links to the fact that women tend to use more lotions and cosmetic products than men.
Certain parabens including PP have been banned (2) in the EU since October 2014, closely followed by the Association of South East Asian Nations Cosmetics Committee in 2015. Australia has approved their use but in limited quantities deemed sufficiently safe for humans.
Octinoxate absorbs UV rays and is therefore commonly found in sunscreen but the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an American environmental organization, has identified it as a moderate hazard because it’s a hormone disruptor with links to developmental and reproductive toxicity.
Octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC) and Benzophenone (BP-3)
OMC is a UV filter shown to have a weak estrogenic effect on the uterus and vaginas of female rats (3).
BP-3, another sunscreen ingredient was studied for its effect on fish fertility (4) and found to have a significant impact on reducing the daily average egg reproduction per female in medaka; the Japanese Rice Fish (Oryzias latipes).
These studies do show that although fertility levels were affected, once pregnant, the females gave birth to healthy offspring.
What is of concern is that benzophenones were also shown to have an effect on the normal level of testosterone during male development in rodent studies as it inhibited the conversion of androstenedione to testosterone.
Homosalate is an ester formed from salicylic acid used widely in sunscreen. Again, this has proven to be an endocrine disruptor (5) but what makes this additive more dangerous is the fact that once subjected to sunlight it can break down into more harmful by-products, which could enhance pesticide absorption into the body.
Phthalates are connected to both male and female infertility and are salts or esters of phthalic acid, used to improve the plasticity of products.
A Canadian study (6) concluded that although evidence suggested that phthalates may not have a significant effect on women’s reproductive systems at low concentrations, there was a concern regarding the potential for adverse effects resulting from higher exposure and through interaction with other phthalates and chemicals.
Although phthalates have been banned in toys for young children in the EU and the US for some time, there are moves afoot in Denmark to make sure these are not unwittingly brought home by consumers as imports from other countries in products as diverse as sports equipment and paint.
If you want to ensure you’re giving yourself the best possible fertility rate as a couple, we recommend you check the labels on your products carefully and try to choose natural products wherever possible.
To find out more about the ingredients used to manufacture skincare products, email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Smarr MM, Sundaram R, Honda M, Kannan K, Buck Louis GM. 2016. Urinary concentrations of parabens and other antimicrobial chemicals and their association with couples’ fecundity. Environ Health Perspect 124:730–736;http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/EHP189
- Mínguez-Alarcón, L., Chiu, Y. H., Messerlian, C., Williams, P. L., Sabatini, M. E., Toth, T. L., … for the Earth Study Team. (2016). Urinary paraben concentrations and in vitro fertilisation outcomes among women from a fertility clinic. Fertility and Sterility, 105(3), 714–721. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.fertnstert.2015.11.021
- Wang, J., Pan, L., Wu, S., Lu, L., Xu, Y., Zhu, Y., … Zhuang, S. (2016). Recent Advances on Endocrine Disrupting Effects of UV Filters. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 13(8), 782. http://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph13080782
- Kim, S., Jung, D., Kho, Y., and Choi, K. 2014 (Effects of benzophenone-3 exposure on endocrine disruption and reproduction of Japanese medaka (Oryzias latipes)—A two generation exposure study. Aquatic Toxicology 15 244-252 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aquatox.2014.07.004
- Schiffer, C., Müller, A., Egeberg, D. L., Alvarez, L., Brenker, C., Rehfeld, A., Frederiksen, H., Wäschle, B., Kaupp, U.B., Balbach, M, Wachten, D., Skakkebaek, N., Almstrup, K., and Strünker, T. (2014) Direct action of endocrine disrupting chemicals on human sperm. EMBO Reports (2014) 15: 758–765. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.15252/embr.201438869
- Kay, V. R., Chambers, C., & Foster, W. G. (2013). Reproductive and developmental effects of phthalate diesters in females. Critical Reviews in Toxicology, 43(3), 200–219. http://doi.org/10.3109/10408444.2013.766149